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in international law, the intentional and systematic destruction, wholly or in part, by a government of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group. Although the term genocide was first coined in 1944, the crime itself has been committed often in history; one such example is the massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey (1894–96). The term was initially used to describe the systematic campaign for the extermination of peoples carried on by Nazi Germany, in its attempts in the 1930s and 40s to destroy the entire European Jewish community, and to eliminate other national groups in Eastern Europe. In 1945, the charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal listed persecution on racial or religious grounds as a crime for which the victorious Allies would try Nazi offenders. It established the principle of the individual accountability of government officials who carried out the extermination policies. The United Nations, by a convention concluded in 1949, defined in detail the crime of genocide and provided for its punishment by competent national courts of the state on whose territory the crime was committed, or by international tribunal. Charging that the convention violated national sovereigntysovereignty,
supreme authority in a political community. The concept of sovereignty has had a long history of development, and it may be said that every political theorist since Plato has dealt with the notion in some manner, although not always explicitly.
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, especially in its provision for an international tribunal and in the potential liability of an individual citizen, the United States did not ratify it until 37 years later, in 1986. An international tribunal was established to prosecute genocide cases in the aftermath of the slaughter of more than 500,000 Tutsis in RwandaRwanda
, officially Republic of Rwanda, republic (2015 est. pop. 11,630,000), 10,169 sq mi (26,338 sq km), E central Africa. It borders on Congo (Kinshasa) in the west, on Uganda in the north, on Tanzania in the east, and on Burundi in the south.
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 in 1994. In 1995 top civilian and military Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat leaders were charged by an international tribunal with genocide in the killing of thousands of Muslims during the breakup of the former YugoslaviaYugoslavia
, Serbo-Croatian Jugoslavija, former country of SE Europe, in the Balkan Peninsula. Belgrade was the capital and by far the largest city. Yugoslavs (i.e.
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. In 2018 former Khmer RougeKhmer Rouge
, name given to native Cambodian Communists. Khmer Rouge soldiers, aided by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, began a large-scale insurgency against government forces in 1970, quickly gaining control over more than two thirds of the country.
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 leaders were convicted of genocide in the deaths or deportation of Cambodian ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims in the 1970s.


See studies by I. L. Horowitz (1981), L. Kuper (1982), E. Staub (1989), S. Power (2001), D. J. Goldhagen (2009), and P. Sands (2016).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


the deliberate and systematic destruction of a whole nation, or an ethnic, ‘racial’ or cultural group. Though earlier periods in history have witnessed institutionalized violence against particular groups (for example, religious dissidents, indigenous peoples, ‘witches’), often conducted by or on behalf of the Church and state, there are persuasive arguments for the claim that it is only under the conditions associated with late MODERNITY that genocide becomes a reality (Horowitz, 1980). BAUMAN's study (1989) of the Nazi Holocaust is perhaps the best known example of this thesis. If modernity is understood to involve the emergence of the NATION STATE and the elaboration of a BUREAUCRACY capable of keeping under surveillance and regulating its population, with the enhancement of scientific and technological power and the development of INSTRUMENTAL RATIONALITY as the dominant mode of thought and action, then the capacity of ‘modern times’ to effect the systematic destruction of populations is clear.

The 20th century continued to furnish examples of genocide, including the ‘killing fields’ of Pol Pot's Cambodia, the inter-tribal massacres in Rwanda and the persecution of the East Timoreans by the Indonesian government, adding weight to the claim that genocide has become one of the unacceptable faces of modernity

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from Greek génos, clan or tribe, and Latin caedo, I kill), the extermination of individual groups of the population for racial, national, or religious motives; one of the gravest crimes against humanity. Crimes of genocide are organically linked with fascism and similar reactionary “theories” that preach racial and national hatred and intolerance and the rule of so-called superior races over inferior races.

Crimes of genocide were committed on a mass scale by the Hitlerites during World War II (1939-45) in occupied European countries, especially against the Slavic and Jewish population. Millions of people of different nationalities were exterminated in fascist death camps. The ruling circles of several imperialist states flagrantly violate the Conventions of 1948 and 1965, by pursuing a policy of genocide within the country as well as the territories under their rule and using this policy in the struggle against the national liberation movement. A policy of genocide and apartheid has become the state policy in the Republic of South Africa and in Rhodesia.

The punishability of genocide has been established by statutes of international military tribunals (the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals) as well as by the special international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on Dec. 9, 1948. In the convention genocide means acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such—namely, killing members of such a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children from one group to another. The convention also makes punishable conspiracy with intent to commit genocide, incitement and attempt to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide. The convention provides for the prevention and punishment of crimes of physical and biological genocide. During the drafting of the convention the representative from the USSR insisted on also including a prohibition on national and cultural genocide, which expresses itself in measures and acts directed against use of the national language and against the national culture of any group of the population; however, the imperialist powers refused to accept this proposal or to extend the operation of the convention to the colonies, in which crimes of genocide are perpetrated on a mass scale. In 1965 the United Nations adopted a convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, which condemns racism, one of the forms of which is genocide.

In the Soviet Union and the other socialist states any limitation of the rights of citizens or the establishment of any privileges for citizens based on their racial, national, or religious affiliation, as well as the preaching of racial or national discrimination or hatred and neglect, is prohibited and punished by the law.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


See also Brutality, Massacre.
largest Nazi extermination camp; more than 1,000,000 deaths there. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 958–959, 970, 1123]
Babi Yar
ravine near Kiev where Nazis slaughtered 10,000 Jews. [Russ. Hist.: Wigoder, 56]
Nazi slave labor and extermination camp. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 1187, 1188]
showcase of Nazi atrocities. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 1055]
primarily work camp, experienced share of Nazi horrors. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 1055]
Final Solution
Nazi plan decided fate of 6,000,000 Jews. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 1037–1061]
Nazi attempt at extermination of European Jewry (1933–1945). [Jew. Hist.: Wigoder, 266–267]
Nazi extermination camp. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 970]
Nazi extermination camp. [Ger. Hist.: Wigoder, 113]
My Lai
American army division annihilates population of entire Vietnamese hamlet (March 16, 1968). [Am. Hist.: Kane, 450]
women’s concentration camp in Germany. [Ger. Hist.: Shirer, 1275]
Nazi concentration camp. [Ger. Hist.: Shirer, 375]
Six Million Jews
their deaths a testimony to Nazi “Final Solution.” [Eur. Hist.: Hitler, 1123]
Nazi extermination camp. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 970]
Wannsee Conference
“Final Solution” plotted and scheduled. [Ger. Hist.: Wigoder, 619]
Zyklon B
hydrogen cyanide; used by Nazis for mass extermination in concentration camps. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 970]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the policy of deliberately killing a nationality or ethnic group
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005